SOME 1.5 MILLION children die every year from diarrhoea because of poor sanitation and hygiene, according to Oxfam Ireland.
Marking World Water Day, chief executive Jim Clarken says that unsafe water is the main reason for these preventable deaths, with 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa alone lacking access to safe toilets.
“70 per cent of Africans do not have access to a safe toilet” said Clarken. “This is an outrage and one of the main reasons that children in the region are about 16.5 times more likely to before the age of five than children in developed regions.”
Clarken added: “If governments met their obligations to increase spending on water and sanitation we could reduce the number of deaths significantly.”
African governments signed a declaration in 2008 committing themselves to spend at least 0.5 per cent of GDP on sanitation and hygiene. Despite this, just one country, Equatorial Guinea, has since confirmed it has done so.
Clarken said that while more than two billion people had gained access to improved drinking water since 1990, billions still live without proper sanitation facilities. “On current trends, it will take another 200 years for African governments to halve the number of people living without proper sanitation facilities,” he pointed out.
Women and girls, who are made to walk long distances in rural areas and queue for hours in city slums to draw water, bear the biggest burden of unsafe water. More than 1 in 3 women in the world lack access to safe sanitation, with 526 million forced to go to the toilet in the open, which puts them at greater risk of disease and sexual violence.
“We must praise the work of governments and local communities around the world who have prioritised the issue of safe drinking water. But the same amount of energy and resources must go into fighting the problem of sanitation. Otherwise we are condemning hundreds of millions to a life of poverty and violence,” Clarken said.